In my Christian life I have come across many different approaches to church. Generally I have found that while people may test different approaches, they eventually find one that works for them and then stick to it for most of their lives. Let’s call this their primary approach. They may also dabble in a few additional approaches as they make friends with others, or feel God leading them in that way for a season, but overall they remain grounded in their primary approach.
I myself have approached church in different ways over the years. At the moment I would say I find myself based in the “Church as fellowship” category with a desire to engage in many of the other approaches as the Lord enables.
Church as involvement
I have often heard people speak about church as something that they “get involved” with. They say something like, “I am thinking about getting involved in church again.” Church to them is something they engage with depending on the season. Usually “involvement” amounts to things like running a bible study, going to church events, attending prayer meetings, and so on. Sometimes they may be more “involved” than at other times, like when they are young and have less commitments. But by and large this view of church is something they “do.”
Church as attendance
For others church is a matter of faithfully attending meetings, the Sunday meeting being the most important. Come hell or high water these people will attend the Sunday meeting and faithfully sing, tithe, and listen attentively to the speaker. Some also attend the weekly prayer meeting, or a home group meeting, or some other more directed type of meeting. Such people believe that being dedicated and consistent in their attendance to church gatherings is very important for the growth of their spiritual lives and the solidity of the church community. By and large this view of church and spiritual growth is based on consistent attendance.
Church as encounter
I have also met people that believe that church is all about encountering God, usually in the context of a spiritual meeting. Such meetings usually take the form of a worship service with the sole purpose of encountering God together. Experiencing an aspect of His person tangibly is often the desire of those who attend, whether feeling His love poured out upon you, or hearing Him speak to you, or being overwhelmed by His glory. Such people will often attend many different groups and meetings that pursue encountering God in different ways. The idea is that spiritual growth and life abound as you encounter God in awesome ways.
Church as mission
Some people believe that the purpose of the church is to save the lost and reveal Jesus to the world. Such people will often get involved in mission work, whether in their home town or somewhere in the deepest darkest parts of the world. They take Jesus words of “go into the world” very seriously. They may go and live in a community and simply love and serve the people there, and trust that God will reveal Himself to them through their actions. Or they may engage in a ministry to the poor in their local area and be a light in a dark world for those who cannot see. For such people Church is about participating in God’s mission to reveal Himself to the world.
Church as discipleship
For some church is all about making disciples. It is about sharing Christ with unbelievers, whether through the preaching of the gospel, the performing of miracles, or simply through loving and caring for those that are broken and lost. Once they repent it involves baptising them into Jesus Christ, and teaching them how to live this life. To such people making disciples is the purpose of the church and engaging in disciple-making is the main activity of a Christian.
Church as life
Some people look at church as a part of their lives. They are the church and wherever they are the church is. Church is not something that they need to “do” or “attend.” It is something they are a part of intrinsically and eternally. For such people there may be times of meeting with others and there may be times of not meeting, but no matter what happens, they are part of the church that Jesus Christ is building here on Earth. Generally, these people meet with others based on the nature of their lives. They may meet someone at work that is seeking, and decide to spend more time with them for the next few months. Or they may find a believing family in their neighbourhood that they spend lots of time with. Sometimes they may not spend any intentional time with other believers or non believers, and that’s okay too. For them, church happens as life happens.
Church as Spirit-led
I have also met believers who feel that church should be led by the Spirit. These people spend time listening to the unctions of the Spirit of God and follow what they believe He is saying to them regarding church. At times this may mean consistently meeting with a group of people or engaging in some form of ministry. Other times it may mean focusing on their family or drawing away to simply pray and seek God. Church to these people is secondary to living a Spirit-led life. Being led by the Spirit is the most important thing, and engaging in church is something that the Spirit will lead you in when and how He sees fit.
Church as community
Then I have met people who focus on building a close-knit community of believers. For such people church is about being involved in people’s lives. Loving and supporting each other. Taking care of each other. Orienting your life in such a way that you can consistently be “in” other people’s lives is very important for building church in this way. And members will often choose to live close to one another in order to be able to participate in community life on a daily basis. This approach to church stresses the concept of “ubuntu,” in that personal growth is linked to the wellbeing of the community.
Church as brotherhood/ sisterhood
For some, church is about building close and vulnerable relationships with a handful of believers. This may take the form of a brothers meeting, where a handful of men meet to share their lives, give each other advice, support each other and pray for one another. Sisters may meet to do the same, the only difference being that much crying often abounds. 🙂 In addition to meetings, individuals may meet together to share their lives and form deep friendships. The key to this form of church is to walk with one another through the highs and lows of life in a place of accountability, support, and prayer. To walk together in the light in the presence of our God and Father. This form of church stresses the forming of deep relationships that enable people to be real and vulnerable before each other and God.
Church as fellowship
Then there are those that believe that church is about koinonia (the Greek word used in the bible to refer to communion with one another and God). This approach involves entering into the fellowship between God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ (as described in 1 John 1). To them church is about looking to the Lord together and allowing Him to speak to them. It is about loving the Lord together through singing and prayer, and allowing Him to pour His love out upon them. To such people opening oneself up to the Lord is very important and being a part of a community that comes together to do that often is key.
Church as Christ (all of the above)
Then there are people (although very few) who have come to see church as comprising all of the above forms and more. Church is involvement, and attendance, and encounter, and community, and life, and mission, and discipleship, and brotherhood/sisterhood, and fellowship, and Spirit-led. Such people see that Jesus Christ is so wide and so high and so deep, that it is impossible to contain Him or His expression through the Church as only one thing. Such people have seen the value of engaging in all the many dimensions of church, because each of them reveals a different part of their glorious Lord. They may make their home in one of these camps, but they also consistently engage in many of the others as the Lord enables them.
For such people church is all of the above and none of the above. For them, Church is the earthly expression of a person, Jesus Christ. And because He is so vast, and has so many aspects within Him that He desires to express, choosing only one or even two as legitimate would be nonsensical. Instead, such people want to experience their Lord in ALL his multifaceted forms. They want to participate in all that He wants to express. They want to enjoy and grow in every aspect of His wonderful person. And so they open themselves and even pursue all that He has to give through all the many approaches to church. For in the end they realise, that these are all different sides of Him.
Which approach to church would you consider your primary approach?
Are there any other approaches that you have come across?
Leave your comments below.